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Friday, 22 August 2014

Victoria Coach Station Tour Special Part Two

I'm continuing the report of my meeting at Victoria Coach Station with General Manager Mark Geldard. In Part One I related some of the problems facing Victoria Coach Station as it tries to adapt to an ever growing coach industry within the confines of a central London location.

However there are other problems facing staff on a daily basis that go un-noticed to the majority of travellers passing through. On my way up to the Control Room Mark pointed out a rogues gallery taking up an entire notice board. These are known ticket touts who target tourists with fake and used travelcards amongst other fake travel merchandise. Then there are the beggars and, as in all popular London locations the pickpockets. Mark has in excess of 50 staff working 24/7 tackling everything from lost children to display malfunctions. Claim to fame must go to one of the guys working to coach concourse who in his time at VCS has been shot twice and stabbed once. I'm told he's actually quite a nice guy! Other things that hinder improvement are silly things like a barrier not being able to be removed to aid access to a help desk because of a low ceiling that tall people could bang their heads on. It truly is a Health and Safety Jobsworth's heaven, and it is Mark's job to make sure he is kept frustrated.

South Terminal at VCS. The vinyls on the window clearly demonstrate that little has changed over the years
In years gone by if someone was somewhere they shouldn't have been and got hit by a coach rhe response would have been "serves you right you shouldn't have been there". These days although most of us would probably subscribe to that theory the compensation lawyers and more importantly the Courts don't, and so endeavours have to be made to keep passengers, the blind drunk and dare I say enthusiasts where they should be. There is no better demonstration of the unique efforts VCS have made than at the entrance to the arrivals terminal in Eccleston Place. To deter passengers from entering via the roadway there is a water barrier. Common perception is it is there to clean the sides of the coaches as they go in, but in fact it is to stop people. 4 jets of water each side spray water across the entrance. The water is collected and recycled but still has to be of drinking standard in case some oaf gets a swig and sues for poisoning! Still it is a novel and innovative measure and I'm surprised more venues don't employ it. Unfortunately it is not very photogenic so if you want to see it you'll have to get up there yourselves!

I haven't spoken much about the arrivals terminal. A former garage, it quite simply isn't very big. However a lot happens in a short space of time. Passengers are disembarked, the coaches are cleaned and toilets dropped before their next trip. There is also a small maintainence team for minor jobs such as bulb replacement. Internally the toilets have been refurbished and there is a cafe and refreshment stall. I did mention the 30p cost of using the loos there and Mark told me that it actually cost around 48p per person so they operated the loos at a loss. I didn't ask for details but did wonder how a spending a penny can now cost 48 of them.

Megabus 54205 Volvo B11R Plaxton Elite unloads at VCS arrivals terminal
There are plans to install a fuel tank in the arrivals terminal so coaches can once again refuel at Victoria which will go towards helping turn round speeds for the coaches. Some departures passengers also wait in arrivals as it is quieter and plans for departure screens there are also being made.

Something I haven't mentioned yet is the amount of foreign coaches using VCS. Apart from long established Eurolines operating to all parts of Europe,and Megabus now operating to Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Brussels and Barcelona there are also many other foreign coaches who use the station. None more so than Sindbad, who are a Polish compnay who twice a day have up to 10 coaches departing. Travel outside the UK means a check in procedure, which means a longer wait in the terminal and so clogging up the terminal for domestic passengers. I see it as an increasing problem which doesn't help the flow of passengers, particularly in the North departure terminal, and it is a subject I discussed at length with Mark, as was traffic flow around the Coach Station - while I was there one badly parked van caused a jam as a Megabus Gold coach was unable to turn out of the arrivals terminal and caused quite a jam. In the final part of my report I'll reveal the ideas Mark has to make the whole VCS experience a better one, and the hurdles he will have to overcome in order to bring them to fruition.

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